“Thinking about Homer Plessy” — a photo-narrative by Charles Ingham

April 29th, 2019

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“Thinking about Homer Plessy,” .2018

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From the series Pastoral Scenes of the Gallant South
Archival inkjet print, 4½ x 6½ inches, framed to 14 x 14 inches

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“Thinking about Homer Plessy,” comes from a seven-work series entitled Pastoral Scenes from the Gallant South (from Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”).

In June 1892, Homer Adolph Plessy (1862-1925) tested Louisiana’s racial segregation laws by taking a seat in a whites-only railroad car. Plessy was arrested and taken off the train at Royal and Press Streets in New Orleans. He appealed his conviction as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, where he lost his case. The Court’s ruling established the “Separate but Equal” doctrine, which would end legally only in 1954, with Brown vs. Board of Education.

Other subjects in this series, all of which will be published on Jerry Jazz Musician, include the legendary blues artist Robert Johnson (click here to view), the educator and investigative journalist Ida B. Wells (click here to view) the Memphis photographer and preacher L. O. Taylor, and Booker T. Washington. In two pieces, the artist takes the series “up South” to Brooklyn, focusing on the Truesdells, husband-and-wife conductors on the Underground Railroad in New York, and the contemporary African-American photographer Nona Faustine.

The series comes out of a road trip through the South that the artist took in 2018. The pieces can be interpreted as a form of self-portrait, of the artist paying homage in his own way to an individual, and of the place which that person occupied and continues to occupy. This is the South that the photographer Sally Mann describes as “a place extravagant in its beauty, reckless in its fecundity, terrible in its indifference, and dark with memories.”

Ingham’s photo-narratives explore invented spaces, alternative histories, and visual fictions, sometimes incorporating altered, appropriated images. In some pieces, images alone form a narrative; a horizontal row of five to seven photographs creates a “cinematic” form. In others, words and images create a dynamic interplay, and in the fotonovela series, the photographs move closer to a traditional illustrative function for the text. None of these interchanges between image and text are straightforward, however. Placing verbal and visual elements together immediately creates a tension for the viewer that they want to find/interpret in order to “explain” the narrative of the piece; thus, the artist expects viewers to find a unique narrative of their own in the work.

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Click here to view “Thinking About Robert Johnson”

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Click here to view “Thinking About Ida B. Wells”

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photo by Jacqueline Ramirez

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Born and educated in England, Charles Ingham moved to California in 1982. He has always been interested in hybrid forms and the intersection of literature and the visual arts, his photography often seeking to transgress the traditional boundaries separating the verbal and the visual.

Ingham lives in San Diego and shows his work at Distinction Gallery in Escondido. His work may also be found at his website: charlesingham.com

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